Monday, July 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Lunches: Harry's Deli and Lunchbox

Today and for the next few days we'll continue the food theme. If anything defines a city it's the food, right? Certainly to some degree you remember the cities you visit by the food you find. A memorable meal can be savored long after the taste of the food has faded. As often as not, a treasured memory of a meal may have as much to do with the time, place, circumstance and company as the actual food itself - if the food is good. We've all got memories of meals with atrocious food, as well.
Urban Woman outside Harry's Deli, 100 Block, Knoxville

Chalkboard menu at Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville
I don't often have the chance to have lunch downtown as I did with Buddy Ray at Bella Luna's last Friday (see below), but the summer affords me a few more opportunities to leave work behind and sample the mid-day offerings of the city. So, on two consecutive days recently I visited two lunch-spots I've been wanting to investigate, but hadn't been able to catch open: Harry's Deli on the 100 Block and the Lunchbox in their new location on Market Street.

At Harry's we were greeted by a very friendly and informative young man at the counter who went to considerable lengths to make sure that we understood what we were about to eat would be fresh, local and made in the deli. He said the only thing from a can would be the mustard, which was fine with me, since I can't stand mustard.

Interior of Harry's Deli, Gay Street, Knoxville
The space is pretty straightforward with good photographs of downtown sights and sites lining the walls. The tables and chairs are comfortable and simple. When we visited, there were very few customers, though we may have been a bit late for a lunch crowd. It was a bit of a concern to me. They also serve fresh breakfast and that may be more heavily frequented.

Pasta with meat sauce special, Harry's Deli

Lox on fresh bread, Harry's Deli, Knoxville
My wife ordered the daily special, which was a pasta with a meat sauce. I ordered Lox simply because I've heard of Lox, know it is a Jewish dish and, as a tip of the hat to Harold's Kosher Deli which used to be on the same spot, it seemed like a good thing to do. The pasta was delicious (we shared) and the Lox were very good (we didn't share: Urban Woman does no uncooked fish). I don't have anything to which I might compare the Lox and I don't think they will make my top ten list of favorite foods, but it was good and the bread was obviously fresh. We'd had the bread before, as it is sometimes available at Just Ripe. Our total with drinks was around $22 for two.

Food for dine-in or take-out at the Lunchbox, Knoxville

Casual seating at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Art at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville
The next day we ate at the Lunchbox on Market Square. The restaurant has been downtown since 1981, has two other locations and caters, so it is quite the operation. The food there is packaged for take-out or eat-in, though it's also made fresh in the store. My wife got a sausage quiche which came with mixed-fruit and a muffin. I got a Southwest Chicken Wrap. The quiche and wrap were both excellent and the staff checked in with us several times to make sure we had everything we needed. Interesting art lined the walls and a good-sized crowd took food out or dined in. Our total with drinks was a more modest $18.
Southwestern Chicken Wrap, Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Quiche (slightly eaten) at Lunchbox, Knoxville
I could easily recommend both places. I've enjoyed a number of delis in New York City and while a true NYC aficionado might challenge me, I think each of these places, in its own way, compares favorably to what I had there. I worry a bit about Harry's. Lunchbox has a long history, a location in the center of downtown workers, slightly lower prices and easily taken-out food. Harry's set up is different with their emphasis on organic and local food, but with slightly higher prices on a block in which their neighbors Unarmed Merchants are going out of business, I'm a bit concerned for their future.

So, as always, it's up to you: Do you want a great deli on the 100 block? There's only one way to make sure they stay. I'll try to catch them for breakfast soon, if possible, and I'll let you know how that goes.

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At July 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM , Blogger Andrea said...

My problem with Harry's is the hours they are open. By the time people are getting off work and getting home, they're already closed. I think if they're going to do a business with the people who live on 100 Block, it will be a quick stop for a pastry and coffee for breakfast as people are leaving for the office. Otherwise, if they're not open for supper, I don't know how they will survive. I mean, they're open on Saturday and I imagine they get a decent brunch business then, but they're closed on Sunday, so that's a whole day of business they don't get on one of the only days people on the block have off work and can actually make it there to eat. My husband and I still have not tried them out due to their hours, and we live directly across the street.

Thanks for the review of The Lunchbox. I've been wanting to go there for forever, but never have made it down to find them. Maybe now that they're in their new location I'll make it some weekend for lunch.

At July 25, 2011 at 12:12 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Well, there's the problem: neither are open on the weekend. The Market Street location of Lunchbox is only open Monday through Friday from 10:00 - 3:00. I've assumed from their hours that their target isn't downtown residents, but rather downtown workers. This used to be more common because there were hardly any downtown residents, but there were many workers. Tomato Head started off as a daytime only restaurant and gradually added hours. That's why I'm worried about Harry's - Lunchbox is well-known enough and in the center of the businesses where people need lunch. Neither of those advantages are true of Harry's.

At July 25, 2011 at 12:42 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

I think there's a psychological barrier to spending more than $10 for lunch.

As to their hours - there's a good reason why most restaurants serve lunch and dinner. Rarely can they make it on one or the other alone.

At July 25, 2011 at 1:12 PM , Blogger tthurman said...

It's good to see an establishment in the old Harold's location. I haven't had the chance to get down there and try anything yet. I did mention it to my brother-in-law, who lives on Gay Street, and his comment was, "pretty much the same menu at twice the price". I can't help but wonder if that will be a negative they can overcome, but until I have firsthand experience I can't really know. Times have changed, and prices have increased everywhere, well, except in my paycheck.

Realizing this article isn't about Harold's, I can't help but think of the old deli due to the obvious. I will always have found memories of Harold's, and the crowd of pretty much regulars. Oh how I miss those Ruben's.

At July 25, 2011 at 4:05 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Harold's was a landmark and I hate I never ate there. At $11 for lunch, I can't imagine the prices have doubled, but maybe so. I do think they are trying to be a bit more upscale than most traditional restaurants in terms of freshness, local produce and homemade breads and pastas. It remains to be seen if Knoxville really will support that since it does make everything cost just a bit more.

At August 2, 2011 at 9:22 AM , Anonymous Chyna said...

Harry's most definitely does not have the same menu as Harold's. In fact, when they opened a lot of people were disappointed that it wasn't a replica of Harold's.

I work on the 100 block and I grab lunch from there on a regular basis - at least twice a week. They are almost always busy enough that I can't get a table and end up getting food to go or sitting at the counter. By 1:15 or so, it does clear outconsiderably

At August 2, 2011 at 9:31 AM , Anonymous Chyna said...

I'm posting from my phone and got cut off before finishing ... Anyway, Harry's appears to be doing a strong business, plus they sell their breads to several other businesses so I'm sure that helps. They are a little pricy for a "deli" but everything is local and housemade, so I can deal with that. The service is always fantastic and the food ranges from very good to excellent. Try the carnitas special on Fridays (amazing) or the Rueben, which is rumored to be the best in town. They are open on Saturdays (and I thought Sunday, but I may be wrong), so I encourage all of you who live nearby but aren't around on weekdays to give them a try.

At August 2, 2011 at 3:17 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Hey Chyna,
Good comments. As I said, I never ate at Harold's so I can't speak to the menu issue. It isn't surprising that a certain number of people wanted it to be the same. That is, of course, what happened at the S and W when it re-opened. I'm glad to hear they are busy. I think I mentioned that we were a bit late for a regular lunch crowd. I'm with you on the price - I'll pay a bit more for fresh - I just hope enough people agree with us. Thanks for the input.


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